Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus who was and is and is to come. Amen.
The tone of the conversation in my social media feeds has shifted appreciably of late. Where I once was greeted by hashtags of #adulting, #parentingfail, #roséallday and #SundayFunday -now I’m seeing more and more tags like #resist, #Charlottesville, #whitesupremacy and #blacklivesmatter. Of course, there are still a lot of pictures of people #brunching, because that photos of hollandaise covered food never go out of style. But the digital conversation has changed of late. It burns hotter. At times it’s uglier and more venomous. People are out to win, they’re out for blood figuratively and literally. If you spend any time in the cesspool that are the comments section of any online post, you’ll see that people genuinely seem to want to hurt each other. And it, of course, matches what we see going on in the world.
Last week’s events in Charlottesville Virginia were a startling wake up for many of us. Many of us who had come to believe that such open displays of hatred and ignorance were relics of a time gone by. But clearly, they’re not. This past week we saw the faces of those individuals who up until now have hidden in the dark recesses of internet discussion threads, trolling and baiting people into conversations that were so vile many of us assumed the couldn’t be serious. But as I looked into the faces of these young men shouting in anger, faces that looked like mine – dressed in polos and khakis, surrounding a church building where the community had gathered to seek refuge, in the sanctuary, I saw that their hatred is very real and very serious.
This is the last week of our sermon series entitled Dream Big. Over the course of the last seven weeks, we’ve been making our way through this strange book called Revelation. We wanted to spend some time with this last book of the Bible for a couple reasons.
First, by reading it together in worship we hoped we could begin to make it a little less scary and demystify some of its images. Second and more importantly, we wanted to help you see how God’s word, even some of the more challenging aspects of it, still has the power to work on us today.
And now we’ve made it to the end. And we today we find what might be one of the more familiar passages from the book of Revelation. This beautiful poetry that we read this morning from the final two chapters of Revelation is one of my favorite selections for funeral services. I love the promises of God’s abiding presence, that death will be no more, and the end of mourning, crying and pain are lovely and comforting promises in the midst of grief. These promises can give us strength to meet the days ahead and encouragement when the road gets tough. But there’s more going on here. Much more.
Did you notice the movement in this text read for us today? Maybe you didn’t, there’s a lot of good stuff in this passage, so it’s easy to overlook, but the New Jerusalem – the glorious city of God – comes down to earth. Mind-blowing isn’t it?
You don’t seem impressed. But, think about it. Think about all the images that you have in your head about the life after this one. Pearly gates. Cloud jumping. Fairways in the sky. However you picture the afterlife, I would wager a bet that you don’t picture it here, on earth. But in Revelation, God comes to us. After the epic battles, the dragons and beasts, the harlot with her chalice of blood that we heard about last week after it’s all said and done God comes to earth, to live with us.
Can you now and least pretend that it’s at least a little mind-blowing?
This place, here, becomes the place where God will make God’s home. This place, here, becomes the place where God’s people will live forever. This place, the place that is today clouded by hatred and enmity, violence and mistrust, division and pain, this is the place wherein God’s time, “he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.”
In the face of all that is evil in this world the God who made heaven and earth says, I’m am coming. To the fearful, to the alone, to those who are hated simply because of the color of their skin, God says I am coming. Again and again, God comes into our broken world and promises to remake and renew this creation until one day the things that threaten its wholeness, its well-being, its beauty are gone.
This place, here, is going to be different. The pain and violence that we see and experience will be gone. Death will be gone. The inequality and privilege that marks the lives of some but not others will be gone, and all will bear the name of God on their foreheads.
But we’re not there yet. So what do we do in this in between space and time? What do we do when the powers of evil still have hold on this world, still make us complicit in their schemes?
We live shaped by the future. We live as people who know that the day is coming when this place will be remade in the image of God. In fits and starts, we strive to live as though God’s kingdom and God’s presence have already come in its fullness.
Yesterday Rolf Jacobson and David Lose, two of my professors at seminary but also Pastors who serve at Easter Lutheran Church and Mount Olivet Lutheran respectively drafted a statement for Lutheran clergy and leaders to sign in the wake of last week’s white supremacy rally in Charlottesville. It’s a statement that both Mary and I’ve signed, along with over 1000 other pastors and leaders.
I find it to be a helpful statement for a number of reasons, but it’s the following paragraph that I find absolutely critical. (Click here to read the full statement.)
…we recognize that we are not perfect witnesses against white supremacy and terrorism. Nevertheless, in light of the recent violence in Charlottesville and the ominous rise of white supremacy nationally, we feel called to state as clearly and forcibly as possible our unequivocal opposition to racism and bigotry, our condemnation of hate-based violence, and our commitment to work strenuously for greater acceptance and equality in our congregations and communities. As leaders of Christian communities whose Lord has commanded that we care always for “the least of these” (Matt 25:40), we pledge our support to those who are oppressed because of their faith, race, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexuality. When God declares God’s love for the world (John 3:16), it is for the whole world.
We are imperfect witnesses, but we are witnesses none the less. With every fiber of our being, we are called to point God’s vision and God’s love for the entirety of this world. We will make mistakes, but in so doing we will ask for forgiveness and persevere.
This is the world God loves. This one. Let us join with God in pouring our lives and our love into this place, until that day when God makes all things new. Amen.